We are in the early days of a New year, 365 new days laid out at our feet. Business is looking good, the world economy is – well, where it is, and planning for the year ahead is on many people’s minds. Where will we get business from this year, and beyond?
One of the areas mentioned in a previous post was Networking.
For some, the power of networking has proved elusive. I would like to explore some of the reasons that it may not work for some people. It is an amazing tool which people use every day of the week without even realising it. I have heard people say ‘networking doesn’t work for me’. Those who say this are not giving themselves the credit they deserve for the non-structured networking they do every day.
For example, when they need to get work carried out in their home or on their car or business, usually they will turn to a friend or colleague and ask for a name of someone who they trust to carry out this work. Simply asking ‘who did you get to do that?’ is networking. It is using another persons’ contacts to make a connection with someone else who they trust for their mutual benefit. That is what networking is about. This simple concept addresses the question of how to get people to work with you to provide benefit to you and your business and those that you work with.
A lot of people try out networking but often let their efforts drop off because they don’t find that it’s working for them. Perhaps they had unrealistic expectations in the beginning, or perhaps they did not know what to expect. Networking requires a solid effort on behalf of each person, so we must consider what we need to put into networking as well as what we might get out of it.
Networking has been a fantastic tool in our business, it has also created significant growth in the number of strong relationships we enjoy with other business owners that have lasted the test of time. These relationships are reciprocal ones which benefit everyone involved. They have led to a great many interesting and productive discussions with colleagues and they have also led to lasting friendships.
Networking, which is built on the foundation of personal relationships, takes personal commitment – and time. Trust and confidence must be built between the parties before any referrals for business can be arranged. Networking requires homework, you need to think about who you might refer to another person, and whether these two parties will work well together.
I have seen on many occasions that a new member who joins a network last about two or three meetings. During this time, they buzz around full of enthusiasm, they collect cards and have conversations with people but then, suddenly, they’re gone. Perhaps they don’t have the time to put into nurturing their network. None of us can expect other business owners to put their full trust and reputation in the hands of someone who they have only just met. As small business owners, we understand how long it takes to gain the trust of our clients and customers, and so, we do not hand that over easily. As networkers, we must be prepared to invest first, to build relationships which will pay dividends over the longer term.
I recall somebody once likening the experience of calling to prospective clients to an old village water pump. You know the ones, they have a big long handle and you have to pump and pump and pump. Just when you think you might keel over from exhaustion you catch the faint gurgle of water in the pipe. You are almost there! But, if you stop pumping now the water will go right back to the bottom and all will be lost! If you stay at it just a little bit longer the water will flow and then it will only need a slow steady effort to maintain the flow, while you enjoy all the water you need. Networking is the same.
Take your time with networking. Commit to meeting the other person and get to know them. Find out who they are and what they do, and what their existing reputation is. Let them know who you are, too. Let them know how you do what you do and what is important to you. Provide them with the opportunity to explore how good your reputation is. Trust and confidence are integral to networking, so both parties need to establish for themselves whether they can trust and have confidence in their new contact.
Do not fall into the trap of selling to the network. Networking is about building relationships with others. your network partners may choose to do business with you if they have a need. However, their primary function is to introduce you to others with whom you can do business while your partnership remains reciprocal. In a situation where you both sell to each other, the task at hand, networking, gets neglected. Although you may get some immediate business out of it, you will not succeed in building your network as you had set out to do.
When a person joins a network, they are bringing a whole host of people, with whom they have existing close relationships with, to the network. This group of people is trusted and respected by the new networker, sometimes they are some of their best customers, they are the people who sustain their livelihood. The day that the new networker introduces one of these cherished contacts to a member of their new network, they are exposing themselves to a risk. They are the one who has made the introduction, the one who has said to each party, this person is trustworthy, I recommend them. This can be a dangerous place to be if you do not trust each party completely.
The person that you have referred this contact to may not respect your relationship with the other person. They may damage it, and in doing so, damage your reputation among your own extended network. As we well know, negative news can spread like wildfire. Therefore, networking takes time, we need to build that Trust and Confidence over time to protect not only ourselves and our reputation, but our network of trusted contacts who are worth their weight in gold.
The benefit of networking is that you will get the quality referrals to quality clients that you are looking for. They will add value to you and your business and will deliver repeat business while widening your network. The Pareto Principle or the 80/20 rule means that we will get 80% of our business from 20% of our clients. We are all searching for those quality clients, the ones that fit into that 20%, and through networking, we can find them.
There are many established networks which you can explore, such as BNI, Venture, and the Chambers of Commerce in your local area. If you do not see that there is a business networking group established within your area talk to your Chamber of Commerce about building one. You could join the BNI initially, to see how they operate, and then build your own local network.
Does networking work? Yes, it does. But give yourself the chance to let it work for you. Invest time and effort into your network and watch it grow for the benefit of all.